It’s been decades since Volkswagen pulled out of the U.S. pickup market, and though the German automaker has shown off some concepts throughout the years, it has yet to come up with a viable return strategy — possibly until now.
This isn’t the first time VW has struggled to revive something from its old line-up. It was only after it began migrating from internal combustion engines to battery-electric propulsion that it found the right formula to bring back its classic Microbus. Now, it may follow the same path with a pickup, according to U.S. CEO Scott Keogh.
In an interview with Business Insider, Keogh said an electric drivetrain would give Volkswagen “the chance of a lifetime” to get back into the pickup segment.
A long-frustrated goal
Keogh did not offer any details but, based on VW’s past and present line-up, something in the midsize segment would seem likely. Back in the 1980s, it built and sold a compact truck in the U.S. based on the old Rabbit/Golf platform. In recent years, it has been producing the midsize Amarok for many global markets — minus the U.S.
In 2019, the German carmaker showed off Tarok concept at the New York International Auto Show. Despite a generally positive response, however, it decided not to put it into production.
VW has numerous ways it could follow up with an all-electric truck. It could use the soon-to-be-updated version of the MEB platform that will underpin dozens of products sold by the various Volkswagen Group brands. And it is working up several other platforms for some of those marques, including a more high-performance architecture for Audi and Porsche.
The automaker might even turn to Ford for some assistance. The two have announced an expanding partnership that will see them work together on both conventional and all-electric vehicles, including the latest VW Amarok, and several BEVs that will be sold abroad by Ford.
If VW follows through with a pickup, it would mirror what it did in the minivan market. The automaker had long wanted to find a way to revive the classic Microbus. A number of concept vehicles seemed promising but faced a variety of challenges. It was only when it debuted the ID.Buzz concept that it knew it had a winner. A short-wheelbase version is launching this year in Europe, with a long-wheelbase model designed for the U.S. will arrive in 2023.
Of course, VW isn’t the only one looking at the opportunities electric drive technology offers in the pickup segment. In recent months, the U.S. market has seen two battery-powered pickups go on sale: the massive GMC Hummer and the more compact Rivian R1T.
Next week, Ford will formally roll out the first saleable version of its eagerly expected F-150 Lightning from a new factory it built within its sprawling Rouge manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan.
Competition will be fierce
Indeed, the number of all-electric pickups heading to market could top a dozen by mid-decade, even if VW doesn’t follow through.
- General Motors plans to follow the Hummer with a second GMC model, a version of the conventional Sierra, while a Chevrolet Silverado EV is set to go into production in early 2023;
- Ram has promised an all-electric version of the 1500-Series pickup for 2024;
- Despite repeated delays, Tesla could finally put the Cybertruck into production next year;
- Toyota and Nissan have both announced plans for electric pickups, though they’ve yet to release specific details;
- Kia has announced plans to produce two battery-powered pickups, though it’s not clear if both will come to the States. And sibling South Korean brand Hyundai may also roll out a truck;
A number of startups, including Atlis, have been developing their own pickups, though plans for several have been aborted, including ones from Lordstown Motors, Nikola and Bollinger.
Advantages and disadvantages
Proponents believe electric trucks can deliver a number of advantages over conventional pickups, including lots of low-end torque, as well as new storage space. The Ford Lightning, for example, has a massive frunk where a conventional F-150’s engine would go. The Rivian R1T adds a cross-vehicle storage tunnel in front of the rear wheel, using space freed up by the lack of a driveshaft.
There are drawbacks, including range, which will drop depending upon cargo and payloads. And there’s still that annoying lack of a nationwide charging network. But newer, more efficient batteries are on the way. The Lightning is delivering 300 miles per charge while the Silverado EV is expected to climb as high as 400.
What’s clear is that interest in all-electric trucks is strong, even with such limitations. Tesla claims to have received hundreds of thousands of advance reservations for the Cybertruck. And the same is true for Ford which quickly announced it will double the size of its EV operation in Dearborn, then said it would double that again. And the new Blue Oval City complex near Memphis will focus on the next-generation Lightning when it goes into operation mid-decade.
It’s not surprising that VW exec Keogh wants a piece of the action.